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In The Studio: Injecting Some Soul Into Your Click Track

Click tracks can be Kryptonite to musicians, but it doesn't have to be that way...

By Mark Marshall January 13, 2014

Drive Thru

If you’re not good at recording found sounds, you can also use loops. On a recent session for a Christmas song (“XXX Mas Song” by Bryan Dunn and Andi Rae Healy), I didn’t want to use a regular click.

For this session, it was easier for me to just drop in a drum groove using EZ Drummer, especially since live drums were not going to be recorded for the first session. I didn’t use a stock midi pattern, though. I wrote in my own part.

The reason I don’t like a lot of pre-fab midi grooves is they tend to be busy. Since I grew up originally as a drummer, it’s easy for me to program. If that’s not in your skill set and you must use a pre-fab groove (nothing wrong with that), start off with something simple and add slowly.

Click Replacement Therapy

If you don’t have EZ Drummer or BFD, you can program a simple percussion track using a tambourine or shaker. But don’t just set the click track to play a tambourine on the beats. You want to create something with a feel similar to the song.

If you have a sampler like Kontakt or EXS, you can take single hits of sounds you’ve sampled and use them later for other clicks at different tempos. You can build a library of found sounds that make wonderful click tracks.

I’ve also used loops from iTabla, which is an app for the iPad. Within the app, there are rhythms for tablas with good samples. Sometimes, it’s perfect for the song’s vibe.

The Math

You should figure out the lowest common denominator of the song and include that in your loop. If it’s an 8th note feel, there should be 8th notes in you’re homemade click. If it’s a 16th note feel, there should be 16th notes in your homemade click.

This is especially important if there isn’t a drummer present as an ambassador to the space between notes which we call “feel.”

All Together Now

If you’re playing with a loop or homemade click track, you can include it in everybody’s cans. That’s another weird thing about click tracks. Some engineers will only feed the click to the drummer.

So you’re following the drummer and the drummer is following the click. Sometimes not everyone is seeing eye to eye and the drummer has to negotiate which direction he leans since he’s the only one hearing both.

What do I mean? Say there is a bridge that has a lot of energy. Naturally, everyone wants to push a little. Perhaps it’s on the verge of rushing, but in a natural, emotional kind of way.

Without a click track it’s easy because everyone is following each other. But when the drummer is chained down, they have the click pulling them one way and the band the other.

Why Ya Gotta Be So Mean To The Drummer?!

By having a cool loop/click track and placing it in everybody’s headphones, everyone will play together. Yes, there is still going to be moments when everyone may push forward or behind the beat feel-wise, but everyone has the same relation to the click. Everybody feels the same push and pull.

Tick-Tock

It may seem like a major time suck, but it’s worth spending the time to set up. It sets the mood for the feel of the song. Feel is everything! You’re better off spending extra time at the beginning of the session rather than risking the musicians getting frustrated later on.

Your goal is to get great performances. Prep time is your best ally to achieve this goal.

Click forth, my good people!

Mark Marshall is a producer, songwriter, session musician and instructor based in NYC.

Be sure to visit The Pro Audio Files for more great recording content. To comment or ask questions about this article, go here.


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